Sylvia Plath As A Represntation Of The Post Modern Era
The Post-Modernist period, stretching from 1945 to present, was known for its opportunity and change. Poetry during the time period was influenced by the many events occurring in society. The Second World War had just ended and it was a prosperous time for most of the world. Sylvia Plath was a female poet during this time period. Some of Plath’s work is directly related to issues developing in society, while others were influenced by her truly troubled life. Being a woman, Plath was always interested in the constant fight for women’s rights. After the war, women’s liberation was one of the many issues that demanded change. The poem “The Applicant” portrays how Plath personally felt about women’s rights, specifically dealing will male dominance in marriage. The fight for women’s rights developed after the war had ended, but Plath was also around to witness the horror of the war. Plath was especially moved by the Holocaust. She used references to the Holocaust numerous times in her works. One of her most famous poems “Daddy” explained how hurt and depressed she became after her fathers early death. Plath references the Holocaust in this poem to show how much aggression and betrayal she felt as a result of her father’s death. Her father’s death, her struggle for success, and her failed marriage with poet Ted Hughes, all contributed to Plath’s need to portray her feelings in her poetry. As a confessional poet Plath wrote the poem “Edge”, which truly shows how confessional Plath is. This poem shows the depression that took over her life as she talks about her want for death. Sylvia Plath, writing in the Post-Modern society, created her poetry to represent the time period by supporting women’s liberation, recalling and relating to World War two and the Holocaust, and proving to be one of the many successful confessional poets of the era.
As a woman living in the 1940’s and 1950’s, Plath despised men because of how they treated women. She was constantly reminded that men treated women like possessions, inferior to then instead of equal. Plath believed that women should be treated as equals, and deserve the same opportunities in life that males are offered. Even as a writer, Plath found that she always had to compete with her husband. She found it harder to gain respect and success because she was a female. In fact, Plath said that she felt she was doubly isolated from society: She was a woman and a writer. (“The Self”) Plath mainly felt this way because of the conditions that women were subjected to in society after the war had ended. In order to find jobs for the men coming back from the war, married women were encouraged to go back to their forgotten kitchen sinks. “Many left their factory jobs immediately after the war, but others were reluctant to give up their new found independence.” (Merz 6) When all this was occurring Plath wrote an entry in her journal that read “I have hated men because I felt them physically necessary: hated them because they would degrade me, by their attitude: women shouldn’t think, shouldn’t be unfaithful (but their husbands may be), must stay home, cook, wash.” (Plath 462) As a result of Plath’s hate for men she wrote poems about liberation and what she thought was wrong with the way men treated her. In the poem “The Applicant” Plath depicts how many women are treated in marriage and makes it seem that marriage is a job interview where women need to sell themselves to the male as if they were products. Plath puts herself in the position of a woman in a marriage. The woman is dismembered and not complete, showing that she is not “normal”, and therefore treated differently. Plath writes “Stitches to show something’s missing? NONO? Then / How can we give you a thing?” (Plath “The Applicant” 6-7) This quotation relates back to Plath’s life and how she feels that as a woman she is regarded as less of a human being. Near the middle of the poem Plath introduces a suit that is given to the male. This suit is mentioned throughout the rest of the poem. It reads “I notice you are shark and naked. / How about this suit- / Black and stiff but not a bad fit.” (Plath “The Applicant” 19-21) This emphasizes how the women in the marriage always give to her male but her male never returns the favour. Pamala J. Annas understood what the suit means. She says “The suit defines the man, whereas the woman is only defined by the marriage.” (“The Self”) This shows the overall message of the poem: the woman feels she needs the husband, but the husband is only concerned with the suit he is offered. He believes that without his wife he will survive just the same as if he had her. Without his suit he is regarded as nothing. One of the last lines of the poem says, “It can sew, it can cook / it can talk, talk, talk.” (Plath “The Applicant” 34-35) The woman is presented as “it” in these lines. By her using this word to describe herself, she explains how she feels as a woman in marriage, a possession that is not respected or fairly treated. Men simply felt women were only good for cleaning and cooking in the early Post-Modernist era. Plath manages to portray this trend in the poem “The Applicant” by using the metaphor of marriage being like a job interview.
Growing up in the time of World War two, Plath’s poetry contains context relating to the war and the Holocaust. It creates an even more disturbing effect on her poetry. Plath’s father died of diabetes when she was only eight years old. In a way Plath felt that her father betrayed her when he died. His death filled her up with anger and hurtful emotion. As a result of this she wrote the poem entitled “Daddy” to explain how she felt when her father had past away. Plath believed that she could explain her feelings by relating her life to a Jew in the Holocaust. “An engine, an engine, / chuffing me off like a Jew. / A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belesen.” (Plath “Daddy” 31-33) She mentions the concentration camps that were set up in the Holocaust and refers to herself as a Jew. This was Plath’s way of connecting and sympathizing for the Holocaust victims. Many critiques did not agree with her choice of metaphor. They believed her comparison was a very inappropriate metaphor because her experiences were far less invasive and horrific than that of the Holocaust victims. Jacqueline Rose, the writer of The Haunting of Sylvia Plath, said that critiques have called this metaphor “monstrous”, “utterly inappropriate”, and “a device which camouflage the true meaning of the poem in which they appear.” (Rose 206) Contrary to the critiques, Plath felt that her experiences and the pain she felt, related substantially to the Holocaust victims. Plath was very moved by the horror of the Holocaust. Many of the most important aspects of the Holocaust were put into her poetry, like the concentration camps that we saw in the last quotation. In this quotation another aspect is mentioned. “I could hardly speak / I thought ever German was you. / And the language obscene.” (Plath “Daddy” 28-30) Plath remembers that the Jew’s were not aloud to talk or even look at the German soldiers. She felt the same way about her father when she was growing up and mostly after he was gone. Plath even goes as far as to relate herself to a gypsy, a group also hated by the Germans. (“Literary”) To relate herself to the gypsy’s she says “With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck / And my taroc pack and my taroc pack. / I may be a bit of a Jew.” (Plath “Daddy” 38-40) She connects with the Jews and the gypsy’s to provide a deep and dark metaphor for her writing. Incorporating the similarity of her past and the events occurring in society into her poetry, show how moved Plath was about the Holocaust. Plath chose not to write about the Holocaust and the War like so many other did at the time, but instead decided to relate the Holocaust to her own struggles as a child with her “Daddy”.
In the Post-Modern era poetry began to transform into a new style. It was called confessional poetry and Sylvia Plath’s works are a perfect example. When studying post 1945 poetry, one can see that most poets decided to confess their feelings in their poetry. In the book Post War Literature:1945 to the Present it says “The mood of the 1960’s was one of rebellion in the quest for self expression, for liberation . . . There was a sudden new mood for anti-hero, and anti-romance.” (Merz 34-36) Plath’s poetry was filled with anger, betrayal and sadness, ultimately leading to depression. She often wrote about her multiple attempts of suicide, her troubled divorce, and the many horrible events she was presented with in life. There are few poems that Plath wrote that are filled with happiness. The poems that are uplifting generally describe how happy Plath would be if she had succeeded in her suicide attempt, or never married her ex-husband. The poem “Edge” was the second last poem that Plath wrote before she succeeded in committing suicide. Some say this poem should be regarded as her unofficial suicide note. This is evident when she writes “Her bare / Feet seem to be saying: / we have come this far, it is over.” (Plath “Edge” 6-8) She is explaining that she has come very far as a poet, mother, and human being, but her final days are approaching. This is an excellent example of a confessional poetry because it makes the audience fear what she is going to do. This type of poetry was deep, dark, and often was very surprising to read. “Confessional poetry creating a disturbing, often autobiographical poetic of pain that shocked the world with its own raw anatomy of human suffering.” (“Confessional”) Plath definitely achieved this by writing her own feelings out on paper. Her thoughts were usually very intimate and different, mainly because of her diagnosed depression. She was constantly writing about suicide and these thoughts always remained in her head. This quote from “Edge” shows how deep in depression Plath was at this point in her life. Her mind works differently than those of “normal” people. “The woman is perfected / Her dead / Body wears the smile of accomplishment,” (Plath “Edge” 1-3) Plath believed that she would be utterly perfect if when she was dead. She makes the reader understand that being alive to her means nothing. Being alive is keeping her from perfection. John Biquenet says “She suggests that one can find happiness only in absolute solitude, the solitude of death.” (“Masterplots”) By making her audience consider this, Plath is proving that she is completely confessing her true thoughts. Plath was never ashamed to write down the truth of what she was feeling. Her writing was everything but flowerful. She prided on writing about her true painful and honest thoughts. The fact that Plath was depressed for most of her life, gave her the little limits when writing her truly confessional poetry.
Sylvia Plath’s poetry related to the Post-Modern time period because she faught for women’s rights, connected to the Holocaust victims, and was part of the new confessional poetry era. Through her poetry Plath proved to be an advocate of women’s rights. The poem “The Applicant” reflects the truth about how women are treated in marriage, proposing that marriage was like a job interview where women had to see themselves. Women’s liberation fought for the time same things that Plath was passionate about, making women equal to men in all aspects of life. This occurred after World War two ended, when the whole world was still horrified by the Holocaust. Plath managed to relate her personal life to the lives of the Jews during the Holocaust. Her fathers death seemed a betrayal to her and influenced this strong metaphor. Plath’s father was the German and Plath was the Jew struggling to survive. Plath believed this was the best way to sympathize with the Holocaust survivors. This strong metaphor is found in the poem “Daddy”. Plath’s ability to confess her true feelings in her poetry made her one os the greatest confessional poets of the era. Plaths second last poem “Edge” has been seen as her unofficial suicide note. This poem explores the haunting and horrors inside Plath’s mind. Her confessions in this poem are deep, dark, and to many not normal. Releasing this poem to the public proved Plath to be one of the deepest confessional poets who ever wrote. Her poems are filled with the longing for death, her attempts of suicide, and her failed marriage. Her confessional poetry attracted her audience because they began to understand her true feelings. She voiced her opinions on what was going on in society and related to horrific events of the recent past. Unfortunately for Sylvia Plath, venting out her feelings did not cure her life long depression. Sylvia Plath committed suicide when she was thirty years old and left behind many explanations in her confessional poetry as to why she arrived at that conclusion. Her work will forever be viewed as an amazing representation of the Post-Modern era.